What is Chemotherapy and How Does it Work?

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy kills cells which are dividing rapidly. Surgery or radiation destroys cancer cells in one area of the body, while chemotherapy travels throughout the body and kills cancer cells wherever they may be located.

When chemotherapy kills cancer cells, it also kills some normal cells. The cells most affected by these drugs are cells in the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, hair follicles, and some reproductive cells. This is the reason side effects of chemotherapy may include low blood cell counts, nausea, mouth sores, diarrhea, hair loss, infertility, and others

More than one chemotherapy drug may be given at a time. They appear to have additional effects when combined. The combination of drugs may be given weekly or every three to four weeks. There is a break between cycles of chemotherapy which allows for the blood counts to recover. Multiple cycles of chemotherapy are given to destroy more cancer cells.

Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy refers to drugs given before surgery to shrink a tumor, while adjuvant chemotherapy refers to drugs given after surgery to help prevent the cancer from coming back. Chemotherapy also may be used alone or with other forms of treatment such as surgery or radiation therapy.

Side Effects and Management

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